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Clipping from Holidays for Couples Autumn 2008

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  • VffIOR CfitlPLIS.lt |;7"

    Thailand's Tropical Koh Samui

    Drive Southern NSWRediscover the Gold Goast

    Gorgeous Weekend RetreatsNew Zealand's South lsland

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  • Lion Hearted

    Holidaying with your beloved and

    seven fearsome carnivores may not be

    everyones idea of a getaway, but Roderick

    Eime discovers this wild experience may

    just give you both a new outlook on life.

    The cry came out from somewhere in the long grass; Lokus brought down a buffalo! and I grabbed my camera and charged off into the bush with Paul, my guide. Still wheezing and my chest pounding, I came upon the scene, the cub I had been playing with only yesterday had a full grown water buffalo by the neck, the poor beast writhing noisily in Lokus powerful grip.

    Were at Masuwe Lodge, a few clicks from the township of Victoria Falls, near the Zimbabwian/Zambian border. A safari lodge in this part of Africa is no headline news, but Masuwe has a few special attractions that make it very special indeed. Lokuthula (Loku for short) and Langa are brothers, just 15 months old and nearing graduation to the next phase of their rehabilitation program. The pair are two of seven African lions currently at the lodge, housed in a special section adjacent the accommodation where they are pampered by a team of African Lion and Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) volunteers. ALERT is a non-governmental, not-for-profi t organisation dedicated to rehabilitating and releasing wild lions after an intensive program of training and acclimatisation.

    Visitors to Masuwe Lodge have access to a wide range of regular activities that include elephant-back safaris, walking safaris and game drives either at

    the lodge itself or in the nearby Zambezi National Park. The permanent tented accommodation is described as African living at its most luxurious, but frankly thats a bit of a stretch. The tents are certainly comfortable, spacious and decorated in a tasteful big game/Out of Africa theme that clearly sets the scene, but Cond Naste Gold List they are not.

    As regular guests, we get a few hours of interaction with the lions and their volunteer keepers as they go about their daily routine. As an experience, the encounter is described by Bench International, the Australian agent, as Walk with Lions, but not to worry, as these are just cubs.

    Before our encounter, Paul runs through a series of worst-case scenarios to prepare us. As our front line defence against these savage beasts we are each handed, not a double-barrelled shotgun or a metal-tipped lance, but a fl imsy twig that would barely manage as a fl y swatter.

    If a lion charges you, says Paul earnestly, you must show no fear and point the stick at the ground and yell at him NO CUB! This complex ritual does nothing to reassure me.

    But dont worry, he continues, they only want to play. But they play rough and have sharp claws, and we are very fragile yes?

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  • Our safety briefi ng completed, we begin our walk into the bush. After several minutes we reach a shaded clearing and lounging in confi dent repose are our two cubs. My heart misses a beat, probably several, as we are introduced to our new friends. Some cubs! At almost 100kg each, theyre about half grown and ready to start tearing into the other animals on the reserve.

    Lisa, an ALERT volunteer supervisor, is leaning over one of the prostrate carnivores, her hand vigorously rubbing behind the ears, the animals head cocked back in ecstasy.

    This is Langa and thats Lokuthula, Lisa informs us, they are 15-month-old brothers and weigh about 90kg about half their full grown weight.

    The largest male lions are close to 300kg and its hard to imagine one three times this size. Langa catches sight of me and shifts his gaze. My heart blips again.

    He loves a tummy rub, Lisa invites me, just there below the ribs and I bend down gingerly remembering to show no fear. As I reach out tentatively, so does Langa. No cub! Thanks Lisa. Lets go for a walk then.

    The boys are coaxed to their feet, clearly unimpressed at the interruption to their afternoon nap, but are soon trotting along gleefully, nuzzling each other and checking out the surroundings. At one stage, Im actually holding Lokus

    tail as we stroll through the long grass, fi nally confi dent enough to give each of them a tickle on the neck occasionally. But wait! Langas seen something and hes immediately dropped down to stealth mode.

    About 30 metres away a lone male wart hog is digging optimistically in the dry soil but quickly notices our party and locks gaze with Langa. Lokuthula instinctively disappears into the cover, making his way around behind the pig for a rear attack. Langa meanwhile, engages the prey front-on, creeping slowly toward the nervous boar. Then hes off at full speed with Langa in pursuit. We try to keep up, hopelessly outperformed by these optimal creatures, but eventually fi nd the two of them returned to their siesta, empty-pawed.

    Back at the lodge, theres time for an afternoon elephant-back safari, and were lead around the vast compound atop a team of mighty African elephants. I was always told that African elephants were harder to train than their Asian cousins, but these big lumbering mastodons are delightfully even tempered, even friendly, and there are no signs of the chains or ropes I will always remember from the circus animals I saw as a kid.

    We use a reward and reinforcement regime to train the animals, says Paul when I quiz him, there are no whips or cruel things they may do elsewhere. African elephants are happy elephants.

    Back at the lodge, Lisa invites me to meet the rest of the lions and volunteers over in the ALERT compound. I am not surprised to meet an Australian couple; Jay and Rachel from Melbourne who have taken a month off from their work with a major telecommunications company to spend time alongside these animals rather than lie on a beach somewhere. Both in their 20s, the pair were clearly enjoying the rare enrichment this experience was delivering.

    Its great to be able to share this experience as a couple. Well certainly have some great stories for our grandkids, says Rachel, imagine telling them we stood fi ve metres from two lions devouring a buffalo.

    An African safari is a pretty special sort of holiday for any couple, but add intimate encounters with lions, elephants and the wonderfully exuberant people of Southern Africa and you have a potentially life-changing mix of premium experiences.

    It has given us a greater appreciation for what we have back at home says Rachel philosophically, We both work in a stressful corporate environment and to be walking with lions at 6.30 every morning and see the sun come up has been a breathtaking experience no-one can ever take away from us.

    WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY RODERICK EIME

    + South African Airways fl y to Johannesburg and Victoria Falls

    + Five times per week from Perth + Five times per week from Sydney (code share with Qantas)

    + Flights to Victoria Falls are daily from Johannesburg Ph: 1300 435 972 www.fl ysaa.com

    For all enquiries about travel to Masuwe, contact Bench International on (02) 9290 2877 or 1800 221 451

    or visit www.benchinternational.com.au

    ALERT: www.lionalert.orgVOLUNTEERING: www.africanimpact.com

    FACT FILE

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